Gliese 581c Inhabitants Visit Earth: Mission to the Blue Planet

As this week’s Newsweek article said, if you are Looking for Life? Try Gliese 581c. It turns out that astronomer at the European Southern Observatory in Chile indirectly inferred the existence of an earth-like planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Slight movements (perturbations) of the star led to the discovery of Gliese 581c by the astronomers. These movements had to be caused by the existance of another body near the star. Astronomers released this information in April 2007.

ESO Observing Facilities

According to ESO astronomers, “We have estimated that the mean temperature of this super-Earth lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid,” explains Stéphane Udry, from the Geneva Observatory (Switzerland) and lead-author of the paper reporting the result. “Moreover, its radius should be only 1.5 times the Earth’s radius, and models predict that the planet should be either rocky – like our Earth – or fully covered with oceans.”

Gliese 581 is a little more than 20 light years from Earth. It would take light 20 years to travel to the Earth.

This discovery extends the discussion on the possibility of life elsewhere in the Cosmos. As some have said, this is the first discovery of a exoplanet (a planet that exists in the Universe outside the realm of our sun) that appears to be in the “habitable” region. Astronomers at the ESO use a machine that is designed to detect exoplanets, and is the most sophisticated instrument of its kind. It’s called HARPS spectrograph(High Accuracy Radial Velocity for Planetary Searcher).

Now a bit of imagination. Suppose there is advanced life on Gleise, and not only have they developed a machine such as HARPS, but have figured out how to travel light year distances in Cosmos, and they have planned a Mission to the Blue Planet, which they discovered many years ago, and have spent years building the technology and space craft to make a peaceful visit to Earth using advanced “stealth” technology.

Visit the Mission to the Blue Planet website, and if you are a teacher, engage your students in a study of the Earth through the eyes of Gleiselings. All of the links and potential inquiries are included in the website.

What do you think?

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University